Nikon D3100 vs Sony NEX-5N
The Nikon D3100 and the Sony Alpha NEX-5N are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in August 2010 and August 2011. The D3100 is a DSLR, while the NEX-5N is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Both cameras are equipped with an APS-C sensor. The Nikon has a resolution of 14.2 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 16 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D3100 and the Sony Alpha NEX-5N? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The physical size and weight of the Nikon D3100 and the Sony NEX-5N are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
The D3100 can be obtained in two different colors (black, red), while the NEX-5N is also available in two color-versions, but different ones (black, silver).
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony NEX-5N is considerably smaller (45 percent) than the Nikon D3100. Moreover, the NEX-5N is substantially lighter (47 percent) than the D3100. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the D3100 nor the NEX-5N are weather-sealed.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Both cameras have similarly sized sensors, but DSLRs have a larger flange-to-focal plane distance than mirrorless cameras, which imposes contraints on the optical engineering process and generally leads to bigger and heavier lenses. You can compare the optics available for the two cameras in the Nikon Lens Catalog (D3100) and the Sony E-Mount Lens Catalog (NEX-5N). Mirrorless cameras, such as the NEX-5N, have moreover the advantage that they can use many lenses from other systems via adapters, as they have a relatively short flange to focal plane distance.
The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, you can navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from a broad list of cameras there.
|1.||Nikon D3100||124 mm||96 mm||75 mm||505 g||550||n||Aug 2010||599||ebay.com|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||111 mm||59 mm||38 mm||269 g||460||n||Aug 2011||699||ebay.com|
|3.||Nikon D3200||125 mm||96 mm||77 mm||505 g||540||n||Apr 2012||599||ebay.com|
|4.||Nikon D5100||128 mm||97 mm||79 mm||560 g||660||n||Apr 2011||749||ebay.com|
|5.||Nikon D7000||132 mm||105 mm||77 mm||780 g||1050||Y||Sep 2010||1,499||ebay.com|
|6.||Nikon D3000||126 mm||97 mm||64 mm||536 g||500||n||Jul 2009||599||ebay.com|
|7.||Nikon D5000||127 mm||104 mm||80 mm||590 g||510||n||Apr 2009||749||ebay.com|
|8.||Nikon D60||126 mm||94 mm||64 mm||522 g||500||n||Jan 2008||629||ebay.com|
|9.||Nikon D40X||124 mm||94 mm||64 mm||522 g||520||n||Mar 2007||729||ebay.com|
|10.||Nikon D40||124 mm||94 mm||64 mm||522 g||470||n||Nov 2006||499||ebay.com|
|11.||Sony NEX-5R||111 mm||59 mm||39 mm||276 g||330||n||Aug 2012||749||ebay.com|
|12.||Sony NEX-F3||117 mm||67 mm||42 mm||314 g||470||n||May 2012||599||ebay.com|
|13.||Sony NEX-C3||110 mm||60 mm||33 mm||225 g||400||n||Jun 2011||599||ebay.com|
|14.||Sony NEX-3||117 mm||62 mm||33 mm||297 g||330||n||May 2010||599||ebay.com|
|15.||Sony NEX-5||111 mm||59 mm||38 mm||287 g||330||n||May 2010||699||ebay.com|
|Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The D3100 was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 14 percent) than the NEX-5N, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The size of the imaging sensor is a crucial determinant of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature an APS-C sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. The sensor area in the NEX-5N is 3 percent bigger. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.5. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
With 16MP, the NEX-5N offers a higher resolution than the D3100 (14.2MP), but the NEX-5N has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 4.78μm versus 5.01μm for the D3100). Yet, the NEX-5N is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year) than the D3100, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units.
The resolution advantage of the Sony NEX-5N implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the NEX-5N for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 24.6 x 16.3 inches or 62.4 x 41.5 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 19.6 x 13.1 inches or 49.9 x 33.2 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 16.4 x 10.9 inches or 41.6 x 27.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Nikon D3100 are 23 x 15.4 inches or 58.5 x 39 cm for good quality, 18.4 x 12.3 inches or 46.8 x 31.2 cm for very good quality, and 15.4 x 10.2 inches or 39 x 26 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Nikon D3100 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, which can be extended to ISO 100-12800. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha NEX-5N are ISO 100 to ISO 25600 (no boost).
Technology-wise, both cameras are equipped with CMOS (Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor) sensors. Both cameras use a Bayer filter for capturing RGB colors on a square grid of photosensors. This arrangement is found in most digital cameras.
For many cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the NEX-5N has a markedly higher DXO score than the D3100 (overall score 10 points higher), which will translate into better image quality. The advantage is based on 1.1 bits higher color depth, 1.4 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.2 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. The two cameras under consideration both have sensors whose read-out speed is fast enough to capture moving pictures, but the NEX-5N provides a faster frame rate than the D3100. It can shoot movie footage at 1080/60i, while the Nikon is limited to 1080/24p.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. For example, the D3100 has an optical viewfinder, which can be very useful when shooting in bright sunlight. In contrast, the NEX-5N relies on live view and the rear LCD for framing. That said, the NEX-5N can be equipped with an optional viewfinder – the FDA-EV1S. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Nikon D3100 and Sony NEX-5N along with similar information for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Nikon D3100||optical||n||3.0 / 230||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0/s||Y||n|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||Y||1/4000s||10.0/s||n||n|
|3.||Nikon D3200||optical||n||3.0 / 921||fixed||n||1/4000s||4.0/s||Y||n|
|4.||Nikon D5100||optical||n||3.0 / 921||swivel||n||1/4000s||4.0/s||Y||n|
|5.||Nikon D7000||optical||Y||3.0 / 921||fixed||n||1/8000s||6.0/s||Y||n|
|6.||Nikon D3000||optical||n||3.0 / 230||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0/s||Y||n|
|7.||Nikon D5000||optical||n||2.7 / 230||full-flex||n||1/4000s||4.0/s||Y||n|
|8.||Nikon D60||optical||n||2.5 / 230||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0/s||Y||n|
|9.||Nikon D40X||optical||n||2.5 / 230||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0/s||Y||n|
|10.||Nikon D40||optical||n||2.5 / 230||fixed||n||1/4000s||2.5/s||Y||n|
|11.||Sony NEX-5R||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||Y||1/4000s||10.0/s||n||n|
|12.||Sony NEX-F3||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||5.5/s||Y||n|
|13.||Sony NEX-C3||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||5.5/s||n||n|
|14.||Sony NEX-3||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||7.0/s||n||n|
|15.||Sony NEX-5||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||7.0/s||n||n|
|Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.|
One difference between the cameras concerns the presence of an on-board flash. The D3100 has one, while the NEX-5N does not. While the built-in flash of the D3100 is not very powerful, it can at times be useful as a fill-in light.The NEX-5N has an articulated screen that can be turned to be front-facing. This characteristic will be appreciated by vloggers and photographers who are interested in taking selfies. In contrast, the D3100 does not have a selfie-screen.
The D3100 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the NEX-5N uses SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Nikon D3100 and Sony Alpha NEX-5N and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
Mic / Speaker
|1.||Nikon D3100||Y||mono / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|3.||Nikon D3200||Y||mono / mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|4.||Nikon D5100||Y||mono / mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|5.||Nikon D7000||Y||mono / mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|6.||Nikon D3000||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|7.||Nikon D5000||Y||mono / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|8.||Nikon D60||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|9.||Nikon D40X||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|10.||Nikon D40||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|11.||Sony NEX-5R||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|12.||Sony NEX-F3||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|13.||Sony NEX-C3||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|14.||Sony NEX-3||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|15.||Sony NEX-5||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
Both the D3100 and the NEX-5N have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. The D3100 was replaced by the Nikon D3200, while the NEX-5N was followed by the Sony NEX-5R. Further information on the features and operation of the D3100 and NEX-5N can be found, respectively, in the Nikon D3100 Manual (free pdf) or the online Sony NEX-5N Manual.
So how do things add up? Which of the two cameras – the Nikon D3100 or the Sony NEX-5N – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.
Advantages of the Nikon D3100:
- Easier framing: Has an optical viewfinder for image composition and settings control.
- Longer lasting: Can take more shots (550 versus 460) on a single battery charge.
- Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced segment (14 percent cheaper at launch).
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2010).
Arguments in favor of the Sony Alpha NEX-5N:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (16 vs 14.2MP), which boosts linear resolution by 7%.
- Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (10 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (1.1 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (1.4 EV of extra DR).
- Better video: Provides higher movie framerates (1080/60i versus 1080/24p).
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (920k vs 230k dots).
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
- More selfie-friendly: Has an articulated screen that can be turned to be front-facing.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (10 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- More compact: Is smaller (111x59mm vs 124x96mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 236g or 47 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
- More modern: Was introduced somewhat (1 year) more recently.
If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the NEX-5N is the clear winner of the contest (14 : 5 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera. A professional wildlife photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a family photog, and a person interested in architecture has distinct needs from a sports shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D3100 and the Sony NEX-5N place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera and Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera listings whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the D3100 and the NEX-5N in practical situations. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.
This is why expert reviews are important. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Nikon D3100||5/5||+ +||..||72/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2010||599||ebay.com|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||3/5||+ +||..||79/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2011||699||ebay.com|
|3.||Nikon D3200||5/5||+ +||..||73/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Apr 2012||599||ebay.com|
|4.||Nikon D5100||5/5||+ +||..||76/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Apr 2011||749||ebay.com|
|5.||Nikon D7000||4/5||..||..||80/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2010||1,499||ebay.com|
|6.||Nikon D3000||..||+||..||72/100||4/5||4.5/5||Jul 2009||599||ebay.com|
|7.||Nikon D5000||..||+ +||..||75/100||4/5||4.5/5||Apr 2009||749||ebay.com|
|8.||Nikon D60||..||80/100||..||+ +||4/5||4.5/5||Jan 2008||629||ebay.com|
|9.||Nikon D40X||..||79/100||..||+ +||4/5||4/5||Mar 2007||729||ebay.com|
|10.||Nikon D40||..||81/100||..||+ +||o||4.5/5||Nov 2006||499||ebay.com|
|11.||Sony NEX-5R||..||..||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2012||749||ebay.com|
|12.||Sony NEX-F3||4/5||..||..||74/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||May 2012||599||ebay.com|
|13.||Sony NEX-C3||3/5||+ +||..||74/100||4.5/5||4/5||Jun 2011||599||ebay.com|
|14.||Sony NEX-3||..||..||..||70/100||4.5/5||4/5||May 2010||599||ebay.com|
|15.||Sony NEX-5||3/5||+ +||..||71/100||4.5/5||4/5||May 2010||699||ebay.com|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.
- Canon 20D vs Nikon D3100
- Canon 760D vs Sony NEX-5N
- Canon G7 X Mark II vs Nikon D3100
- Canon T7 vs Sony NEX-5N
- Fujifilm XF10 vs Sony NEX-5N
- Leica Digilux 3 vs Nikon D3100
- Nikon D3100 vs Olympus E-500
- Nikon D3100 vs Olympus E-M1X
- Nikon D3100 vs Sony A7C
- Panasonic G1 vs Sony NEX-5N
- Panasonic TS7 vs Sony NEX-5N
- Pentax K-1 II vs Sony NEX-5N
Specifications: Nikon D3100 vs Sony NEX-5N
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Nikon D3100||Sony NEX-5N|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Mirrorless system camera|
|Camera Lens||Nikon F mount lenses||Sony E mount lenses|
|Launch Date||August 2010||August 2011|
|Launch Price||USD 599||USD 699|
|Sensor Specs||Nikon D3100||Sony NEX-5N|
|Sensor Format||APS-C Sensor||APS-C Sensor|
|Sensor Size||23.1 x 15.4 mm||23.4 x 15.6 mm|
|Sensor Area||355.74 mm2||365.04 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||27.8 mm||28.1 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||14.2 Megapixels||16 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4608 x 3072 pixels||4912 x 3264 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||5.01 μm||4.78 μm|
|Pixel Density||3.98 MP/cm2||4.39 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||1080/24p Video||1080/60i Video|
|ISO Setting||100 - 3,200 ISO||100 - 25,600 ISO|
|ISO Boost||100 - 12,800 ISO||no Enhancement|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 2||BIONZ|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||67||77|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||22.5||23.6|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||11.3||12.7|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||919||1079|
|Screen Specs||Nikon D3100||Sony NEX-5N|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Viewfinder optional|
|Viewfinder Field of View||95%|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||230k dots||920k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Touch Input||no Touchscreen||Touchscreen|
|Shooting Specs||Nikon D3100||Sony NEX-5N|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||Contrast-detect AF|
|Continuous Shooting||3 shutter flaps/s||10 shutter flaps/s|
|Fill Flash||Built-in Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||MS or SDXC cards|
|Single or Dual Card Slots||Single card slot||Single card slot|
|UHS card support||no||no|
|Connectivity Specs||Nikon D3100||Sony NEX-5N|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||no Wifi|
|Body Specs||Nikon D3100||Sony NEX-5N|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||550 shots per charge||460 shots per charge|
124 x 96 x 75 mm
(4.9 x 3.8 x 3.0 in)
111 x 59 x 38 mm
(4.4 x 2.3 x 1.5 in)
|Camera Weight||505 g (17.8 oz)||269 g (9.5 oz)|
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